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Superman: The Movie
"You will believe a man can fly!"
Directed by Richard Donner and released by Warner Brothers in 1978, Superman: The Movie tells a story that most of us are pretty familiar with by this point. When the planet Krypton's time is clearly running short, a scientist named Jor-El (Marlon Brandon) sends his infant son Kal-El to Earth in a spaceship. The ship is found by a kindly couple named Ma (Phyllis Thaxter) and Pa Kent (Glenn Ford) who raise the baby as their own, naming him Clark. As Clark gets older, it's clear that he has powers far beyond those of a mere mortal. In fact, he has only one weakness, a rare crystal from his home planet called Kryptonite! Aware of how important their boy is, the Kent's rightly teach their boy to use his powers for the greater good.
As Clark grows to adulthood (where he's played by Christopher Reeve) he takes a job as a reporter at The Daily Planet in the thriving city of Metropolis where he befriends a younger reporter named Jimmy Olsen (Mark McClure). Here he gets involved with co-worker Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who is completely unaware of his alter ego. However, as Superman, clad in blue tights and a red cape, he does battle with the sinister Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) who sets out to hold the country hostage by threatening to detonate a pair of missiles. And if that weren't enough? Superman also has to contend with three of his father's enemies from Kyrpton, Non (Jack O'Halloran), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Zod (Terence Stamp)!
The very opposite of the dark and gritty superhero movies that tend to be common these days, Donner's film is, in a word, fun. Yeah, there are plot holes and logic gaps that, if you think about them too much, crumble the story a bit but overall, this film really does manage to capture the spirit of the comic that inspired it really well. Donner keeps the pacing right and gives us the right mix of action, adventure, humor and drama to entertain us throughout while still managing to keep the film pretty much entirely kid friendly. The movie has a lot of heart, and even now, forty years after it was made, it feels very positive…uplifting even. The special effects show their age, they're a wonderful product of their time, but they certainly add to the nostalgia rush that those of us of a certain age will definitely feel when revisiting the picture.
The movie also benefits from a very strong cast. Front and center, Christopher Reeve not only looks the part as both Superman and Clark Kent, but he's got the right sort of movie star charisma that you need to pull off a role like this. He's is immensely likeable here and has great chemistry with Margot Kidder. As Lois Lane, Kidder is also very well cast. She's sassy and tough but still very much human. The scenes where she and Superman are together on screen have a whole lot of charm to them, their unlikely romance standing as one of the more grounding elements in the picture. And then, of course, we have the villains. Gene Hackman is a blast as Lex Luthor. He chews the scenery perfectly here and looks to be having a lot of fun doing it. Terence Stamp as Zod is also fantastic, he's all menace and he's absolutely unforgettable in the role. Supporting work from heavyweights like Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford also adds some class to the film, while Mark McClure is amusing enough in his role as Jimmy Olsen.
Note that this 4k UHD disc contains the theatrical cut of the film only. There's no option to watch the director's cut or the TV edit versions.
Superman: The Movie arrives on UHD in a 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded transfer framed at 2.40.1 widescreen with both HDR and Dolby Vision on a 100GB disc. Taken from a new 4k scan of the original negative, this is a very strong picture. Some might complain that the many scenes using optical effects look pretty grainy, but this is in keeping with the source material. Detail is generally very strong here, and the colors look great, with the reds and the blues of Superman's costume appearing consistent throughout the presentation. Black levels are nice and deep and the image is free of crush. Skin tones look perfectly natural and there's a lot of appreciable depth to the image as well. There are no noticeable problems with compression artifacts or noise reduction, this is all very film-like in appearance. It's worth noting that some scenes in the picture were shot soft, and that softness is inherent in the elements used for the transfer. Obviously, you don't get the level of high detail you might expect from the best 4k transfers in these scenes, but then, you're not supposed to. Overall, however, this is a very nice-looking picture, one that fans of the film should be quite pleased with. When compared to the included Blu-ray the increase in detail isn't massive, but it is there, more obvious in some scenes than others (in fact, the less effects intensive scenes tend to fair better here). This is faithful to the source, as it should be, and generally very pleasing.
English language options are provided in Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Dolby Digital 2.0 options are provided in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese and Japanese with optional subtitles available in English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Japanese, Portuguese, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Swedish and Thai.
The Atmos track (which is surprisingly not the default on the disc, that honor puzzlingly goes to the lossy 5.1 mix!) is quite good, but again, the limitations of the source material are sometimes obvious. Dialogue is clean and clear and always easy to follow but occasionally doesn't sounds as ‘full' as you might want it to. Sound effects are placed well and sound quite strong and the iconic score sounds fantastic here. As you'd expect, the track is free of any noticeable hiss or distortion. Surround effects are not bombastic but they are there, particularly in the more action-intensive scenes or the scenes where Superman is flying. Here the rear channels spring to life quite nicely, not overdoing it but definitely adding a bit to the movie in a good way.
The only extra on the UHD is an audio commentary with Executive Producer Ilya Salkind and Producer Pierre Spengler (who were recorded separately) wherein they talk about their experiences getting the picture made. There's lots of talk here about collaborating with Richard Donner and what he was like to work with, how the film did at the box office, budgetary issues, and quite a bit more. This, like all the other extras on the disc, are carried over from the previous Blu-ray release, there's nothing ‘new' here in terms of the extra features.
The rest of the extras are included on the accompanying Blu-ray disc (which also carries over the commentary), starting with the fifty-two-minute featurette The Making Of Superman: The Movie that is made up of vintage behind the scenes footage as well as cast and crew interviews (including Reeves, who is quite charming here). It's an interesting piece and it goes quite in-depth, showing off effects work, location work and quite a bit more.
1951's Superman And The Mole-Men is also included here. This hour-long theatrical feature stares George Reeves as Clark Kent, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane and Jeff Corey as Luke Benson. In the film, Benson, who is short-sighted, coerces a mob into going after some creatures that have come out of the Earth near an oil well at which point, of course, Superman gets involved. It's a pretty fun piece, pretty entertaining stuff. Warner Brothers has also included three vintage Superman-related cartoons: Super Rabbit starring Bugs Bunny and two Daffy Duck entires, Snafuperman and Stupor Duck.
Rounding out the extras are four-minutes of TV spots and trailers, menus and chapter selection./p>
The two discs fit inside a standard sized Blu-ray keepcase that also holds an insert card that can be redeemed for a digital HD download of the movie. This case, in turn, fits inside a nice slipcover.
Superman: The Movie remains a whole lot of fun, a well-made film that capture the spirit of the comics and the nobility of its title character really, really well. Reeves is great in the lead and the supporting cast all bring their A-game as well. While it would have been nice to get more bonus material included with this release, but there's some decent material here even if a lot of fans will already be familiar with it. Still, the presentation here is really strong, and the movie looks and sounds really, really good on UHD. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.